Huiyin (Drinking Party)2, a Chinese translation of Plato’s Symposium by Liu Xiaofeng (1956- ) came out in 2003. This translation was the loose stone that triggered an avalanche of the interest in Western Hellenic works among Chinese intellectuals in the 2000s. By the end of the decade this wave of interest coalesced into a group of Chinese scholars bound together by their distinctive views on the Greek classics and by the intensity of their abiding fascination with the neo-conservative thinkers Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt.
Owing to the efforts of Chinese scholars inspired by Liu Xiaofeng’s translation, Huiyin’s publication was followed by a succession of translations of Platonic dialogues and commentaries. This body of work is now collectively referred to as “Platonic opera Omnia cum commentariis in Chinese Translations” (Complete works of Plato with commentaries in Chinese Translations) and forms a part of an even more comprehensive translation project entitled “Hermes: classici et commentarii” (Hermes: classics and commentaries) which was started in 2000 and has published approximately 350 books by early 2015.
Liu Xiaofeng received his master degree in philosophy at Peking University in 1980s and Ph. D. in theology in Europe in early 1990s. He established his academic reputation in the 1980s by participating in cultural debates on how to view cultural differences between the East and the West. He is the chief editor of the Hermes series and a major figure in introducing Plato in conjunction with Leo Strauss to China’s intellectual community. Liu’s Huiyin remains influential because it provides succeeding translations and commentaries on Plato and other Western classics with a model for both format and content.
Huiyin is the first translation in the influential translation project known as Hermes, but by no means the first translation of Plato in China. Before Liu’s translations, there were already several other versions of Plato’s Symposium in the Chinese language. Furthermore, even after Liu’s Huiyin, Wang Taiqing introduced another translation of Symposium in 2004.3 However, Huiyin is unique compared to other translations of Plato outside of the Hermes series. Of all the translations of Plato, Huiyin alone has become a foundational text of an intellectual and political campaign. This book is both representative and illustrative of the intellectual outlooks of Liu and his supporters, who stand united around their Straussian political philosophy and Straussian approach to the classics. Additionally, even compared to the other books of Hermes, Huiyin also stands apart as the most thorough piece of work. Huiyin boasts the most comprehensive [End Page 67] commentary and notes and is most formidable of all the books in the Hermes series in its demonstration of serious scholarship.
This paper conducts a close study of Huiyin in order to inquire into the important facets of the contemporary Chinese cultural perspective that this book exemplifies. This paper contends that Liu’s Huiyin interacts with modern Chinese theories on translation and constitutes an attempt to conjoin Plato and the Chinese classical tradition by mediating the cultural differences between the two.
This paper starts with an examination of the paratextual features of Huiyin to delineate a general outlook of its physical features and to prepare discussions in later sections. The paper then moves onto an introduction of the modern tradition of translation in China, particularly the principles set by Yan Fu (1854-1920) and C. H. Chen (1902-1992), and examines how Liu’s Huiyin interacts with these principles of translations based on its particular attitude toward the Western and Chinese classics. The third part of this paper focuses on several details in Liu’s translation and commentary to examine how these details reflect Liu’s outlook on classics and the differences between the Western tradition and the Chinese classical canon.
Paratextual Features of Liu’s Huiyin
According to Gérard Genette, the paratext of a book refers to the physical aspects of a book, the material elements that exist more or less beyond the scope of the main content of the book. A paratext may refer to, but is not limited to, the author’s name, the book’s cover, title, preface, or even the price or binding method. By referring to para-texts as “thresholds” of interpretation, Genette confirms the implication of codes, either codes of social discourse or codes of authorial intention, in the physical presence of paratexts. He asserts:
… this fringe [paratext], always the conveyor of a commentary that is authorial or more or less legitimated by the author, constitutes a zone between text and off-text, a zone not only of transition but also of transaction: a privileged place of a pragmatics strategy, of an influence on the public, an influence that—whether well or poorly understood and achieved—is at the service of a better reception for the text and a more pertinent reading of it (more pertinent, of course, in the eyes of the author and his allies).
As stated by Genette in the quotation above, the scope of a paratext may go beyond what is specifically intended by the author. However, legitimated by the author, a para-text is largely authorial.
This section of the paper is a review of the paratextual features of Huiyin, based on the recognition that these features may reveal the context of the translation of Huiyin that is constituted by the message, commentary and concerns intended and legitimized by the author. Besides, as Genette explains, paratext indicates the “transaction” between [End Page 68] the author and the public; as such, this paper holds that the information implied in the paratextual features of Huiyin reveals the context of the conversation within and outside the book, as well as the author’s intentions and expectations toward his readers.
Instead of discussing the implication of external social codes, this section of the paper limits its scope of discussion to the authorial message and to the intentions conveyed by the author Liu Xiaofeng and other group members who are part of the project Hermes.4 Even though, strictly speaking, “every context serves as paratext,” yet for the sake of convenience, the paratextual features under discussion here only include book covers, prefaces, appendices, and selected footnotes. In certain way, all footnotes could also be categorized as paratext; however, this paper considers the footnotes that are insertions of Liu’s own observations5 as intrinsic to his translation of Symposium, thus this paper leaves the discussions of Liu’s own discursive and interpretative footnotes to the third section, which will focus explicitly on the strategies Liu employs in his translation of the original text of Plato’s Symposium.
The paratextual features of Liu’s Huiyin will be discussed below roughly according to two thematic categories: the materials demonstrating a Straussian attitude toward the classics, and the elements illustrating Liu and his group’s intention of breaking away from the modern philosophical approach to Plato in China that was established by C. H. Chen. There are overlapping and integrating areas of these two aspects of the paratextual features of Huiyin, but this section mainly treats them in a separate way.
Liu’s Huiyin is not merely a translation; more importantly it presents a particular interpretation, as demonstrated in the book covers, the prefaces and elsewhere in the book. The front cover of the book contains the title of the series entitled “jingdian yu jieshi” which is elsewhere translated into Latin as “Hermes: classici et commentarii.”6 The strong emphasis on interpretation is also reflected in the arrangement of the book: there are three different prefaces each structured to emphasize the importance of interpretation and to explain a specific approach to interpretation, followed by three interpretative essays in the appendix.
The interpretation is conducted in a particular “Straussian” philosophical approach in Liu’s Huiyin. The three endorsements on the back cover illustrate the dominant influence of Strauss. The first endorsement recommending a close reading of Plato’s Symposium says that reading Symposium is a good training exercise for beginners in classical studies, and also adds that “[Plato’s Symposium] displays cultural richness through the reading of excellent interpreters (such as Leo Strauss).” The second endorsement is a statement considering Plato’s Symposium as a stage play, a quintessentially Straussian approach which is further elaborated in the prefaces to Huiyin. It needs to be clarified here that the term “stage play” (xiju 戏剧) does not refer to the literary genre, but is intended to draw attention to the narrative elements and setting in Plato’s dialogues, which are often overlooked in philosophical approaches by Plato scholars. Taking it as a stage play, Chinese Straussian Platonists maintain that a Platonic dialogue requires more guided attention to the details of the text and the hidden or “hermetic” meaning between the lines rather than to philosophical argument. The approach being endorsed [End Page 69] here, that of seeking to discover and decipher hidden meaning in the classics, is based on Strauss’s assumption that there is a difference between the open teaching intended for the majority of society and the hidden secret teaching only available for trained and sophisticated readers.7
Taken together, these three endorsements, paratextual though they are, reinforce the interpretative principle endorsed by Liu and inculcated through Huiyin, namely that a sophisticated reader should take the Western classics as hermetic texts and therefore should place a strong emphasis on the linguistic and textual details of the Platonic dialogue rather than on examination of the systematic philosophy of Plato’s works. The three prefaces to the book version of Huiyin further solidify the Straussian emphasis on interpretative principles. In particular, the preface by Zhang Hui entitled “Seven Issues of a Stage Play” provides a much more detailed introduction to the Straussian approach to Symposium. Zhang asserts that “as for a stage play, what is expressed is forever less than what is not expressed; what is visible is forever less than what is hidden” (15).8 In Zhang’s article, both Strauss and his well-recognized students such as Allen Bloom and Stanley Rosen are mentioned and cited. The Straussian approach to Plato’s text is subsequently fortified later in the book. The appendix contains three interpretative articles on a distinctively hermetic Straussian framework.
Aside from the strong focus on the Straussian philosophical and literary approach, some paratextual elements of Huiyin also reveal an agenda that is equally integral to the scholarly movement “Hermes” represents. While advocating a Straussian hermetic interpretation of Western classics, the participants in the Hermes project also work hard at reviving Chinese readers’ interest in the Chinese classics. As briefly mentioned earlier in this paper, the translation of Plato under “Hermes: classici et commentarii” goes parallel with another set of works entitled “Chinese Ancient classics: classics and interpretation” which includes commentarial works on major Confucian scholars such as Xunzi (313- 238 BC) and Zhu Xi (1130-1200). In one sense, Liu and his group members are making conscious efforts in two directions. From one perspective, Liu and his followers are introducing Plato through the lens of Strauss, and re-interpreting Confucian classics.9 However, these two efforts are overlapping and can also be seen as of a single philosophical, political and literary endeavor. In Liu’s “Yuanqi” (Origins), was written as a general preface for Hermes, he explicitly makes clear that the series of Hermes is intended to continue the mission of strengthening the connection between China and the World since its modern inception in the late Qing (“Yuanqi”). This mission statement underlines the format of in-text commentary, which Liu claims is the style of Chinese traditional commentary, and “innovative” in the sense that no one ever uses it to comment on Western classics (b7“wYizhe bianyan” 3, 7-8).10 Liu makes the argument that this method complies with the Chinese classical tradition of scholarship; for instance, commentaries made by previous scholars remain essential to our understanding of Confucius’s Analects (“Yizhe bianyan” 3). Following this format, Liu’s translation of Symposium is accompanied by commentaries from previous scholars as well as from his own prior works. It is worthwhile to note that commentaries and translations of [End Page 70] Confucian classics became a major part of the Chinese intellectual tradition after the implementation of civil examinations in the political system of Confucian China since Sui Dynasty (581-618 CE) and such commentaries were often used to promote political reforms advocated by Confucian scholars. In many ways, commentary on the Confucian classics was inherently political because of the vital role the interpretation of these works played in every aspect of traditional Chinese government administration and policy. Therefore, it is significant that in Huiyin Liu intentionally connects the Straussian literary and political reading of Plato to the Chinese classical political tradition. Liu begins to make the connection in the prefaces to his work and maintains the East-West connection through his adoption of the Chinese traditional Confucian commentary format.
While paratextual analysis is sufficient to demonstrate that such themes are present, the question remains: Why do Liu and others emphasize these two themes so much in this book? What are the conventions that Liu and others interact with? The following section is devoted to a diachronic introduction of Liu’s Huiyin. It is believed that a historic grasp of the dialogues with which Huiyin engages will help illustrate Huiyin’s underlying concerns.
A Diachronic Overview of the Context of Huiyin
In Liu’s general preface to the Hermes series, he frequently mentions that Hermes is intended to continue the mission of understanding Western tradition in the Chinese cultural context since the Late Qing. He also elaborates that there have been several obstacles during the process, including a random selection of Western classics to draw intellectual resources from, dogmatism among intellectuals since the 1940s, and theoretical sectarianism. In this way, he seems to suggest that the project of Hermes is to help to remove these obstacles and to continue with the mission of understanding the Western tradition in the Chinese cultural context. However, based on these short essays, we cannot tell in a definite way what kind of historical context the book of Huiyin is situated in and what types of issues it engages with, even though Zhang Hui’s “Preface to the Chinese Translation (“Zhongyiben qianyan”) makes this clearer by asserting the importance of taking Plato’s Symposium as a stage play and acknowledging the Straussian approach. The superiority of a hermetic approach rather than a merely philosophical one is further stressed by Liu himself in his “Translator’s Preface” (“Yizhe bianyan”):
We are accustomed to seeing Symposium or Phaedrus as works of literary theory or aesthetics, and Phaedo and Crito as works of ethics, and Republic and Statesman as works of politics. However, there was no discipline of literary theory or of aesthetics in Classical Greece; neither did Plato conduct his writing according to the academic conventions set up in China. … In order to understand Plato, we need to get rid of the lens of modern academic disciplines, and to take his works as works only.(“Yizhe bianyan” 1) [End Page 71]
Liu reaffirms the necessity of avoiding the “lens of modern academic disciplines.” However, several questions remain: How does the translation in Huiyin help the reader to avoid the obstacles in understanding Western intellectual tradition? How do we avoid random choice, dogmatism and theoretical sectarianism as Liu admonishes? In order to address these questions, it is necessary to give a general overview of the principles set forward by previous translators in modern Chinese history.
The landscape of translation of Western works in modern Chinese has largely been shaped by the criteria set by Yan Fu (1854-1921), both in theory and in practice. Yan expresses this set of criteria most succinctly in the preface to his translation of T. H. Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics. In this article, he lays out faithfulness (xin), comprehensibility (da) and elegance (ya) as three criteria for a good translation (“Yi li yan” xi). In Yan’s theory and practice, translation is a matter of achieving a good balance of these three aspects. Faithfulness means staying as close as possible to the original text; comprehensibility is to convey the translator’s understanding to the reader, and elegance is to achieve stylistic effects. Yan Fu chooses the philosophers of pre-Han China as his stylistic models (xi). The three standards may counteract one another, however. For instance, Yan Fu was never a literal translator; he regularly engaged paraphrastic translation. Moreover, although Yan Fu believed that imitation of the elegant pre-Han style helped the translator to achieve comprehensibility, it was not always the case. Liang Qichao (1873-1929) criticized Yan Fu for his style, which often became too complicated and too obscure: “in his style he is too much concerned with profundity and elegance. He is firmly bent on copying the style of the pre-Qin period, and those who have not read many ancient books found his translations most difficult to comprehend” (qtd. in Schwartz 93).
Yan Fu’s criteria for translation are persuasive and practical in his own social and cultural realities. As he states in his preface to Evolution and Ethics, the emphasis is on the comprehensibility and elegance,11 even when it comes at the price of literal faithfulness. His practice makes his translation particularly appealing to the politically and culturally influential elite literati of China who pride themselves on their familiarity with Chinese classics, and also have a sense of nationalist pride that calls for the convergence of Western thoughts with the noblest Chinese prose style.12 Yan Fu’s strategy of translation proved to be extremely successful. Many conservative literati were induced to read his translations for their elegant style, and surprisingly his avid readers included much less educated schoolboys (Schwartz 94). The popular success that his translations enjoyed go along with the mission statement he asserted in response to Liang Qichao’s accusation for over-emphasis on elegance, “… Unless profound and abstruse books of this type are rendered in a flowing and incisive style, how can our students profit from them? The object of translation is to spread civilized ideas among the people, not to make a useless reputation” (qtd. in Schwartz 94). In Yan Fu’s response to Liang Qichao, Yan makes it clear that “comprehensibility” from the reader’s perspective is the most important factor and should be the guiding purpose of translation; and even difficult style, which might cause comprehension problems on the part of the reader, is actually [End Page 72] employed in the service of having the text apprehended by more readers. To summarize, despite its insistence on “faithfulness,” the criteria for a good translation set by Yan Fu reflect a purposive attitude toward translation, and thus carry a strong emphasis on “comprehensibility” and “elegance.” Yan Fu’s criteria had a profound influence on the translations of later ages, including literary works and philosophical treatises, until C. H. Chen’s publication of his translation of Plato’s Parmenides.
Chung-Hwan Chen (1905-1992), also know as C. H. Chen and Ludwig C. H. Chen, was born in China and graduated from the National Central University in Nanking. He received a Ph. D. in philosophy from the University of Berlin in 1939 after studying in Britain and Germany. He gained international recognition in the study of Aristotle even while he was still a graduate student in Europe. His papers on both Aristotle and Plato are frequently quoted in the field of ancient philosophy in China and in the West. C. H. Chen’s Greek-Chinese translation of Plato’s Parmenides was published in 1944 together with philosophical exegesis and theoretical interpretation. It hence set a model for translating Western philosophical works for later scholars in China (Yu, “Chinese Encounter with Greek Philosophy” 189).
C. H. Chen takes a radically different approach from Yan Fu and attributes much more weight to the importance of “faithfulness.” In his preface to his translation of Parmenides, Chen asserts that “faithfulness” should be the unquestionable ultimate goal; and “comprehensibility” should be only available to the readers who have received systematic training in Greek philosophy. Chen states that a good translation might not be elegant or even comprehensible (9). These principles function under the goal of translation as articulated by Chen:
The purpose of translating philosophical works is to transmit a thought that is never seen in the [source text’s] native culture. A word that has been customarily used in its language can only express the ideas that have been in that language, and cannot express anything other than that. Therefore, it is completely impossible for a translator who strives to achieve “faithfulness” to use the words and sentences he has been accustomed to express an idea that never takes place in the [source text’s] native [culture].(10-11)
Chen’s translation of Parmenides follows this set of principles. For certain concepts in Parmenides, He avoids the use of familiar words to convey ideas that are new to Chinese native culture. For instance, in one of his extended notes in Parmenides, he compares several possible translations of εἶδος, ἰδέα and decides that the Chinese character xiang 相 fits the original meaning better than the rest because xiang denotes the action of seeing (ὶδεῖν, looking), and also because it requires the reader to determine the meaning from the context of the whole dialogue instead of deferring the concept from the regular usage of the term (41).
C. H. Chen declares his position different from that of Yan Fu by insisting that “comprehensibility” should not give way to style. This implies that in C. H. Chen’s view, [End Page 73] comprehension of the text should only be achieved by a philosophically sophisticated reader through genuine efforts to determine the original meaning in the original context. C. H. Chen summarizes the rules for interpretation as determining the meaning of words inter-textually, inquiring into the historical background, and evaluating contents (Chen 13; Yu 2004 189). C. H. Chen’s principles for interpreting and understanding are observed by his students and other scholars in the field of Western philosophy in China. While continuing with the conventions set up by C. H. Chen, Chen’s student Wang Taiqing (1922-2000) makes certain modifications. Wang pays more attention to style in his translation, and he consciously chooses the set of vocabulary and words used by Chinese native speakers when there is no conflict with being faithful to the original text (696). Wang considers that translation is a “creation,” and “both ‘faithfulness’ and ‘comprehensibility’ have to be re-created’” (743). His translation of Plato, an anthology as Bolatu duihua lu (Plato’s Dialogues) published in 2004, exemplifies his principle of translation which is a modified version of C. H. Chen’s.
The convention of translating philosophical works established by C. H. Chen is well respected and observed by philosophers in China. However such a convention is not followed by Liu. In Liu’s prefaces to Huiyin, as well as in the preface contributed by Zhang Hui, there is a brief overview of the tradition of translation since the late Qing. Various names are referenced, but nothing is mentioned of the contributions made by C. H. Chen or by Chen’s students. In the exegeses and interpretative essays in Huiyin, Liu includes many scholarly studies, but not the ones by C. H. Chen.13 This sizable omission evidently did not occur because Liu was unaware of C. H. Chen’s achievements in translating Plato. Actually, Liu criticizes C. H. Chen in an essay in 2000, rebuking him for not being productive in translating and researching on Plato (Liu 2000, 12). Liu’s accusation is clearly unfair. Although not prolific in volume, C. H. Chen was lauded for his serious and groundbreaking scholarship on Plato and Aristotle in the field of ancient philosophy both in China and in the West. In fact, the format of Huiyin, with its large volume of commentary notes and interpretative and explanatory essays, was first used by C. H. Chen.14 Liu’s bias against Chen might be explained by his literary approach to Plato’s Symposium as a stage play rather than a philosophical treatise. Liu carefully abandons the word pian (篇 treatise) in his translation of Symposium, considering that pian, which denotes philosophical treatise in Chinese, is too philosophical and theoretical for a literary piece like Plato’s Symposium. In my view, however, the reason behind Liu’s harsh attitude toward C. H. Chen’s philosophical approach indicates something more than a different philological approach to Plato’s dialogues.
Liu’s translation of Symposium is a reaction to C. H. Chen’s approach, and a return to Yan Fu’s tradition, in the sense that it encourages readers to search actively for parallels and equivalents to Plato in Chinese language and culture. It is assumed by Liu that there are shared sets of thoughts, and literary and philosophical conventions between the West and the East, and it is possible for one to locate similar patterns in both cultures. However, a close reading of Liu’s translation is needed before we proceed in abstract generalization on Liu’s approaches to cross-cultural studies. [End Page 74]
Liu’s Translation of Plato’s Symposium: a Close Reading
After a general overview of the paratexts of Huiyin and of its historical context, this section conducts a close reading of the translation in Huiyin as an investigation of the application of the theoretical approaches which Liu and his group have demonstrated. Taking Liu’s commentary notes as most revealing of the interpreter’s understanding of Plato, this section considers these notes as an essential part of Liu’s translation and thus includes them in the discussion as well.
Based on several existing modern translations in English and in German, Liu’s translation of Symposium stays close to the original text generally. Compared to Wang Taiqing’s translation, however, Liu’s translation incorporates more modern idiomatic expressions and thus makes the dialogue more vivid and accessible to contemporary readers. For instance, for “ ‘ἀλλ᾽, ἔφη, ‘ὥσπερ ἄν εἴ τις μεταβαλὼν ἀντὶ τοῦ καλοῦ τῷ ἀγαθῷ χρώμενος πυνθάνοιτο· …” (Then she said, “Suppose someone changes the question, putting ‘good’ in place of ‘beautiful,’ and asks you this: …)(204e)15, Wang’s translation, which goes “她说：‘假如有人把美的东西换成好的东西，向你问 到 …” (If someone changes the beautiful to the good, and asks you … ,”) is literal, but is slightly confusing, since his sentence does not indicate the change in the topic under discussion. Liu specifies that “the change” in the sentence is of the topic of conversation, and translates it as “那么，她说，要是别人把问法换一下，不是问 ‘美’，而是 问 ‘善’： …” (Then, she says, if someone changes the question, not asking about ‘beauty’, but asking about ‘good’) (Huiyin 79). In this particular case, Liu’s translation of this sentence is more successful in achieving the effects of “faithfulness,” “comprehensibility” and “elegance” than Wang’s translation is. Sometimes, when it is not easy to achieve success in all these three aspects, Liu does try his best to retain certain linguistic features of the original text. An examples can be found in Liu’s translation of “Παυσανίου δὲ παυσαμὲνου” (Then Pausanias came to a pause) (185c) as “泡赛尼阿 斯暂时泡到这里时,. … “ (Paosainiasi’s bubblings came to a pause here). Liu provides a footnote explaining that the Chinese idiomatic word “pao” 泡, meaning “idling,” can be a good phonetic component for the Chinese name of Pausanias and for the Greek verb παύω (to pause, to stop) (Huiyin 37-8). Even though the meanings of idling and pausing are not really related to each other in Chinese, the pun created by associating “Pausanias” and “pause” in the original text is conveyed in Liu’s Chinese translation. In this case, we can see Liu’s strategic treatment of the text for the literary effect rather than staying exactly with the original meaning.
Linguistic choices are not the only issue Liu pays attention to in his translation. He constantly expands the conversation topics in Symposium to include literary tropes and cultural issues that are familiar to Chinese readers. In Liu’s commentarial footnotes, Nietzsche, Carl Schmitt, and other modern thinkers are frequently mentioned and quoted. There is an interesting case in Liu’s note to the word “ὁ ἐραστής” (lover) in 217b. Liu expands the topic to the seduction in Rousseau’s Julie, or the New Heloise, and then to the seduction in Kierkegaard’s Either/Or. After a cursory digression, Liu comes [End Page 75] back to Plato’s Symposium by pointing out the difference: “In the game played by Alcibiades and Socrates in Plato, the lover [ὁ ἐραστής] is being seduced” (Huiyin 106). Liu’s explanatory note does not serve the specific purpose of helping readers to understand the relationship between Alcibiades and Socrates, neither to inquire more into the politically cultured erotic relationship between the lover and the beloved in Hellenic literature, nor to remind readers of the conflicts between Socrates’ view on knowledge and the understanding by Agathon, Alcibiades or by other speakers. What purpose, then, does Liu’s digression serve?
The constant digressions in Liu’s notes could be explained by the translator’s desire to evoke his readers’ existing knowledge in their reading of Plato, even at the moments when no such salient connection could be found. Liu received his higher education and established his academic fame in the 1980s, a time when Chinese readers for the first time enjoyed widespread access to Western classics in Chinese translation. Nietzsche, Rousseau, Kierkegaard, and other modern Western philosophers came to the attention of avid Chinese readers and helped to space the Chinese intellectual landscape of the post-Mao era. A large portion of Liu’s readership is from that generation of readers, the first educated readers in the beginning of the post-Mao era. By mentioning these names and their works in digressive footnotes, Liu creates a zone familiar to his readers who might be first-time readers of Plato and eager to use the literary and cultural knowledge they already have to grasp what is presented in Liu’s translation of Plato. The detours Liu constantly makes can thus be considered as an invitation and a suggestion to his readers to use their existing knowledge to understand. It is an act of placing Plato into the cultural context that readers are familiar and comfortable with.
Such re-location and re-contextualization of Plato in Liu’s translation goes beyond the contemporary linguistic and intellectual nexus of Western literary and philosophical works. In fact, and more important, efforts are made in positioning Plato into the canon of the Chinese classics. In Liu’s note to the introduction of Diotima in 201d, Liu mentions the image of Diotima in Friedrich Holderlin’s Hyperion and then states that there are fictional figures similar to the image of Diotima in Zhuangzi’s writings. He connects Plato and Zhuangzi by asserting that “Some works of Plato are full of what is considered to Zhuangzi’s ‘Sanyan’ (Three Speech Devices). And Symposium is a good example of these works” (Huiyin 71).16 Here Liu seems to evoke readers’ knowledge of Chinese classics, Zhuangzi’s writings in particular, so that they can bring in these understandings to grasp the role of Diotima in Plato.
Liu is even more interested in relating Plato to Confucian classics. In his note to 205d when Diotima asks Socrates questions on Eros:
“The main point is this: every desire for good things or for happiness is ‘the supreme and treacherous love’ in everyone. But those who pursue this along any of its many other ways—through making money, …—We don’t say that these people are in love, and we don’t call them lovers. It’s only when people are devoted exclusively to one [End Page 76] special kind of love that we use these words that really belong to the whole of it: ‘love’ and ‘in love’ and ‘lovers’” (Nehamas and Woodruff 488).
Liu inserts a quotation from Confucius’s Analects, “Confucius says, ‘I have never met a man who loves virtue as much as he loves beauty.’”17 Liu’s insertion here is both helpful and misleading. On one hand, it helps reader understand that the object of love can be different and there are different levels of eros; on the other hand, it limits readers’ understanding of Diotima’s Eros to the realm of Confucian virtues and the Confucian moral system. In this conversation between Diotima and Socrates, one goes through different stages in his journey of Eros, from one beautiful body to the beauty of all bodies, and to the beauty of souls, and then to the beauty of activities and laws; from laws, one moves on to the beauty of knowledge, giving birth to beautiful ideas and theories, and finally beholds the beauty itself (210 a-e). There is a conflict between Liu’s note and Plato’s Symposium here. In Analects, the ultimate goal of the cultural and intellectual pursuits of a gentleman is to obtain virtue. However, virtue, which might be roughly described in semi-Platonic vocabulary as the beauty of soul or the internalization of external beauty of social customs, is not the ultimate purpose in Diotima’s journey of Eros. In Diotima’s description of one’s journey of Eros, the ultimate goal is to behold the Beauty itself, the existence of which is independent of the human soul or of any social custom. By inserting a quotation from Confucius’s Analects, Liu misleads his reader by wrongly evoking in them the memory of an entirely different concept.
Liu’s efforts in detecting parallels between Plato and Confucius are not limited to footnotes. Sometimes they can be found in his translation itself. For the sentence “τοῦτο γὰρ δή ἐστι τὸ ὀρθῶς ἐπὶ τὰ ἐρωτικὰ ἰέναι ἤ ὑπ᾽ ἄλλου ἄγεσθαι, …” (This is what it is to go aright, or be led by another, into the mystery of love) (211b-c), Liu translates it with the word “you” 游 (meandering/playing) in his sentence “自己或 者经别人引导游于爱欲的正确方式就是这样子的” (Such is the correction way of meandering/playing around Eros either by oneself or led by others” (Huiyin 92). The word you is confusing and seemingly random. Liu puts an explanatory note there, “The choice of word is from ‘seek distraction in the arts.’” This sentence is again from Confucius’s Analects: “The Master said, ‘Set your heart upon the Way, rely upon Virtue, lean upon Goodness, and explore widely in your cultivation of the arts” (Analects 7: 6).18 Here in Analects, Confucius is talking about the correct way of the cultivation of a gentleman. And by using the word you游, Confucius explains that gentleman’s cultivation should include relaxing and playful cultural and physical activities. However, in the dialogue of Plato’s Symposium, “teaching,” that is to say, leading someone else in the journey of Eros, is a serious pursuit. The words “ὑπ᾽ ἄλλου ἄγεσθαι” (led by others) indicate a teacher-student pursuit of knowledge and do not connote the meaning of “meandering,” “playing,” or “exploring around” as implied by the Chinese character you 游. Yet, Liu chooses to ignore the difference and use you for “ὑπ᾽ ἄλλου ἄγεσθαι.” He could have adopted another word in his translation. However, he chooses a culturally [End Page 77] loaded and misleading word to emphasize the parallels in the text of Plato and the Confucius’ Analects.
Coming back to the comparison of the approaches adopted by Liu and C. H. Chen. Despite being a good translation, Liu’s Huiyin occasionally gives away “faithfulness” in order to achieve “elegance,” an approach that C. H. Chen strongly opposed. Liu can argue, as he and others already do in the paratextual elements and the notes of Huiyin that Plato’s Symposium should be taken as a dramatic piece rather than a philosophical treatise and its meaning should be detected between lines, and therefore, interpretation should be more than literal. Such an approach as used by Liu provides more freedom for speculation, even when a speculation as such lacks a solid basis of textual support. Both the translation of Symposium by Liu and the commentaries overflow with information, which sometimes is explicitly Straussian in its politics, sometimes suggestive of Confucian values, and sometimes even directly related to contemporary Chinese culture. As C. H. Chen correctly observes in his preface to Parmenides, with too much insertion of external texts, the original meaning of Plato does not always receive sufficient respect from the translator (Chen 11). Often in Liu’s translation, “comprehensibility” and “elegance” are achieved at the price of “faithfulness.”19
Liu’s translation of Plato’s Symposium is a re-contextualization of Hellenic classics in Chinese language and culture. By using a vocabulary that is part of contemporary life in China, Liu makes his translation of Symposium relevant and approachable to his readers in China linguistically. Also, on a cultural dimension, many of his commentary notes relate Plato’s Symposium to the reading experience of his readers and thereby encourage them to bring in their existing knowledge of Western classics in their reading of Plato’s Symposium. Moreover, the juxtaposition of Plato’s Symposium with Chinese classics, particularly, the Confucian classics, can be considered as part of an attempt at re-contextualization as well. Relating the two classical traditions is an act of placing Plato’s Symposium into the Chinese readers’ cultural comfort zone.
Re-contextualization of a text of another language and culture into the native linguistic-cultural circumstances is a common intellectual activity both in China and in the West. The initial translation of Buddhist scriptures into Chinese in the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) was largely a reconceptualization into Chinese native language and culture. In the early twentieth-century of France, thinkers including Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre adapted Classical Greek and Roman plays into modern French plays. More recently, Alain Badiou’s translation of Plato’s Republic is a more eye-catching re-contextualization of Plato in modern world. Badiou appropriates Plato’s Socrates into a modern Marxist who frequently quotes Mao and uses modern street slang.
Re-locating ancient classics in modern socio-culture-linguistic context is an effective strategy for making the ancient text meaningful and relevant to the modern reader. Liu’s translation directly spurs Chinese readers’ interest in Plato and inspires many college [End Page 78] students and young scholars to learn Western classical languages. To restate the argument in the vocabulary of Yan Fu and C. H. Chen, Liu’s translation comes much closer to Yan Fu’s criteria for good translations and differs radically and profoundly from the principles set by C. H. Chen in regard to “comprehensibility.” Liu’s practice of emphasizing “comprehensibility” is effective, precisely because it minimalizes the differences between the readers’ own cultural zone and the text of another language.
At the same time, “comprehensibility” and “re-contextualization” come at a price. As C. H. Chen points out, there is always tension between “comprehensibility” and “faithfulness,” and re-contextualization often involves alteration of the original message in the text. Liu’s translation of Symposium, as shown in the previous sections, sometimes overrides the original meaning by drawing forced parallels between Plato’s text and the texts with which a modern Chinese reader is likely to be familiar.
On the other hand, the intent of Huiyin is more than a textual re-contextualization. As discussed earlier, particularly in the section on the paratextual features, the series on Plato goes parallel to the series on reinterpretation of Confucian classics. In one sense, the purpose of Huiyin goes beyond what Yan Fu refers to as “to spread civilized ideas among people” (Schwartz 94), and Liu’s translation conveys a more specific agenda, i. e., to locate parallels of Platonic/Straussian political messages in Chinese Confucian classics. Mark Lilla argues that the popularity of Strauss is due to to the fact that Strauss provides a bridge between Chinese and Western traditions, and the contemporary Chinese interest in Strauss carries a political speculation on having a “gentleman” elitist ruling class in China (Lilla 16). Because of its implied specific political perspective, Liu’s Huiyin contains a constant self-defense of its legitimacy as the only orthodox interpretation of Plato’s Symposium. Due to its ambition to be regarded as the only correct interpretation, this book would never claim itself as a “hyper-translation” as Badiou does with his translation of Plato’s Republic; instead, Liu feels the need to constantly re-emphasize that his own interpretation is the only legitimate one, as we can clearly see in the choice of words in Liu’s notes, which regularly use words and phrases such as “must,” “the only true interpretation,” etc. Furthermore, in order to defend Huiyin’s legitimacy as the only “correct” interpretation, Liu has to discredit other approaches to Plato’s Symposium, such as C. H. Chen’s philosophical approach.
Implying and expressing political thoughts and agendas through revisions of this kind is part of the Confucian intellectual tradition. Such revisionism is particularly favored and employed by the school of New Text Confucianism in Chinese history. By inserting commentaries to Plato both in translation, in notes and in paratextual materials, Liu seems to position himself more or less in this ancient political tradition of New Text Confucianism. As the first book of the series of Hermes, Liu’s Huiyin is only the opening statement to a more systematic framework of political thoughts in contemporary China, a framework that must establish its legitimacy both by attracting followers with easily accessible concepts and contemporary relevance, and by positioning itself as a rediscovery, or rather, a reinvention of the ancient truth that were lost for a time due to misinterpretation on the part of the authors of competing theories. [End Page 79]
Leihua Weng received her Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in Comparative Literature in December 2010. She is specialized in the reception of Plato in contemporary China. She also works on Post-modern thoughts and cultural politics. She has published journal articles (or forthcoming) in Symplokē, The Comparatist, Comparative Literature Studies, Journal of Tsinghua University, and The McNeese Review. She is currently holding the position of Visiting Assistant Professor of Chinese at Pacific Lutheran University.
1. This paper is indebted to the Conference of Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina in 2014, where help and feedback from conference participants made this paper possible. I would like to give special thanks to the reader of this paper for her/his insightful suggestions.
2. The word “Huiyin 会饮” means “drinking together,” accurately denoting the meaning of the original title “Συμπόσιον” of Plato’s Symposium.
3. The years of the 1990s witnessed a bloom in the translation of Plato. Complete translations of Plato’s dialogues edited by Wang Xiaochao came out in 2002 and 2003. The year after Huiyin, Wang Taiqing’s Dialogues of Plato, that comprises twelve dialogues including Symposium, appeared. Xie Wenyu’s translation of Timaeus also came out in the same year. See Cheng, Zhimin (2004: 120).
4. They are sometimes referred as Chinese Straussians or Chinese Platonists. See Leihua Weng’s “Reception of Plato and Nationalism in China,” 315-6.
5. Liu’s own discursive notes are indicated by the words “Yi an” (译按, note by the translator), and thus differ from the other notes in Huiyin that are of general scholarship on Plato’s Symposium.
6. It is worthwhile to note that, along with the projects of translating and interpreting of Plato’s dialogues, there is a series dedicated to the interpretation of Confucian classics titled Zhongguo Chuantong jingdian: jingdian yu jieshi 中国传统经典：经典与解释 (Chinese ancient classics: classics and interpretation). The parallel of the two will be mentioned later in this paper.
7. One of Leo Strauss’s philosophical theories is “esoteric writing,” which holds that in order to avoid political persecution from the public, philosophers hide their true teaching between the lines, so that only a selective group of wise readers can obtain the true message (Strauss 17-8).
8. Liu himself also explains his approach to Symposium as a piece of literary work instead of a philosophical treatise, See his “Yuanqi,” 1.
9. The Straussian interpretative principles that are exhibited in Huiyin can also be found in the series on Confucian classics edited by Liu and his group. However, due to limited length, the discussion on their interpretative works on Confucian classics will not be covered in this paper.
10. Even though Liu considers this commentary format “innovative” for Western classics, it has actually been started by C. H. Chen in 1940s. According to Yu Jiyuan (J. Yu), C. H. Chen was the first scholar who applied the traditional Confucian commentary format onto the reading and interpretation of Plato and Aristotle (“Chen Kang xiansheng de yichan” 87).
11. Schwartz holds that, despite its paraphrastic approach, Yan Fu’s translation “communicates the essence of the thought he is attempting to communicate; and that his language deals with the same universe as that of Mill, Montesquieu, and Spencer” (95). Wang Taiqing shares a similar view, see Wang, 740-1. [End Page 80]
13. Actually, C. H. Chen published an important article on Plato’s Symposium in 1983 in The Classical Quarterly, New Series, 33.1 (1983): 55-74.
14. According to Yu J., extensive exegeses, common in Confucian scholar tradition, was never used in commenting on and interpreting Western classics until C. H. Chen’s translation of Parmenides (“Chen Kang xiansheng de yichan” 87).
15. The Greek text of Plato’s Symposium in this paper is from Dover’s edition, 1980, and the English translation from A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff.
16. Sanyan 三言 refers to certain literary devices in Zhuangzi, which includes metaphor, repetition and exaggerative expression.
17. This English translation is a modification of Slingerland’s version of Analects, 9: 18.
18. Slingerland’s translation of Analects, 63-4.
19. Liu seems to be aware of the precarious connections between Plato and external materials. He constantly emphasizes the hypothetical tone by using a set of vocabulary including “possibly,” “maybe,” “perhaps” to his political interpretations of the passages in Symposium.